In our series, The Aha Moment, we chat with influencers in the project management space and get to know them better. We are asking a bunch of questions, some biz related and some not so biz related, in order to understand what makes them tick and find their aha moment.
This month’s Q&A is with Elizabeth Harrin:
Q: What is your title at work and what industry are you working in?
A: I currently have two roles. I’m a senior project manager in the healthcare sector, and I run a small business providing mentoring and training to project managers.
Q: In your role, what is your main goal or focus?
A: Through my company, my goal is to help project managers get more done with less stress. Project management can be a pretty lonely job at times, especially in smaller firms where there aren’t many people in the same role. Through our community and membership we can make it feel easier for people by highlighting best practice and showing that there are solutions to the universal issues that project managers have the world over.
Q: What is your biggest challenge in your profession? How do you overcome it?
A: The biggest challenge for me is engaging stakeholders. I’ve written a book about that (Engaging Stakeholders: How to harness people power, published by APM) but even with the research and experience that went into that, it’s still sometimes a challenge!
Projects are done by people, and it’s people who have the power to slow them down or even stop them. That’s why building great relationships and working with stakeholders as partners is really important. The big challenge is when they are so busy that they don’t have enough time to properly do what’s required of them for the project. It’s often not because they don’t want to, but because they’ve got other priorities or just so much to do that they’re finding it hard to give your project the time and focus it deserves.
That means that as project managers we’re constantly thinking about ‘what’s the minimum we can get away with?’ and ‘what’s the least effort I can ask for?’ which ultimately puts the success of the project at risk if the change doesn’t land well.
Q: In your experience, why do projects fail or fail to meet their deadlines?
A: In my experience, projects fail to meet their deadlines because the organization is not good at estimating. Deadlines are often set without any real understanding of what the work is or what it will take to get there. Even if the estimates are reasonable, people are then not given the time to do the work: they’re juggling multiple projects (another subject I have written a book on because this is a huge challenge for project managers and others working on many things at the same time). When you’ve got several initiatives on the go and everyone says they are important, then what do you do first? If your human resources don’t have the time allocated to do the work, you can’t hit the dates on the project plan and that causes dates to slip.
So in summary, proper prioritization, resource management and good estimating would certainly help projects achieve their goals to the original timetable.
Q: What struggles do you have with the tech stack that you currently have? What would help?
A: I speak to many project managers around the world through our membership and my mentoring work, and a common challenge is resource assignment. In organizations that don’t track time, it’s hard to tell when resources will be available to take on new work, so there’s a risk they are overloaded. Organizations that do great resource planning have the advantage of being able to see when they can start new projects or when they need to recruit people with the right skills for the upcoming work.
Q: Have you read any books, articles or other resources that changed your perspective on project management?
A: I’ve read so many books on project management! One that changed my perspective was Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers by Anthony Mersino. The most recent one I’ve read is Business Resilience by Roberts, Choudhury, Kovela, Roberts and Tanvir.
Q: If there was one activity you could remove from your daily routine what would it be and why?
A: Deleting spam from my inbox.
Q: If you could only have three apps on a smartphone, which would you pick?
A: I’d have to keep email, Dropbox and my clock app as I set timers and alarms all the time to keep me on track.
Q: What advice could you give to up-and-coming professionals like yourself?
A: Find the way you like to learn and do it – a lot. That might be reading, watching videos, conferences…whatever. There are so many brilliant thinkers out there, and you can bring their ideas into your project management practice. Project management should be a cross-disciplinary domain: what you learn about customer service, marketing or anything else is all relevant to how we interact with others at work and deliver great projects.
If you want to learn more about Elizabeth or get in touch – you can find him here on LinkedIn. Thank you Elizabeth for hanging out with us and answering our questions.